People used to ask me when I go back, "So how does it feel to be home?" I would always answer the same way: "Great. It feels great to be back." But if you want to hear the long answer:
You feel grateful. Grateful of everything. Grateful of birthdays and Veterans Day; of weekends and picnics; of cool crisp air on warm summer days; of cold beer in frosty mugs; of dogs playing with their cute floppy ears; of soft fabrics like silk.
I went out and purchased a pair of silk-covered pajamas as soon as I got back. Fresh fruit. Eggs. Oh, wonderful eggs. Not the eggs poured from a box, but real eggs with their white shells on. Milk. Mmmmm, ice cold milk. Driving a car and feeling the smooth ride of the highway. Cell phones that were shiny and new, Internet access, private bathrooms.
And how about plain old privacy? Wanting to be alone a lot of the time, not sharing a bathroom with 40 other women. Hot showers, drinking ice cold water or fresh juice -- and alcohol. All types of alcohol: having a glass of wine before dinner, a cocktail for lunch, mimosa for breakfast.
You become frustrated. Frustrated at the people in line at the supermarket who don't have their money out in time. Frustrated at your friends who sit around complaining about their five-day workweeks and their bosses who give them a "hard time." They have no idea.
Frustrated at people who offer their opinion of the war, because deep down inside you could care less about the politics. You just wanted to serve your country. You just wanted to make a difference.
You become irritated. Irritated at fairs and large supermarkets. Irritated at large groups of people. Irritated at the pushing and shoving at Great America. Irritated when people don't realize what's happening on the other side of the world. Irritated at your parents, at your friends, at your family.
The regiment is gone, the routine, the friends that you made along the way, everything you considered to be a royal pain you now missed with longing, wanting to almost be back there.
You sit around torn between wanting to go back to the life you knew and wanting to completely forget some of the memories. Trying in vain to cut them out of your head. I tried to edit my deployment.
I left in the laughs, the practical jokes. I cut out the pain, the loneliness, the plane ride home one night from Baghdad staring at a flag-covered box at one end. The memorial ceremonies, the pain and the sad stories I never wanted to tell again.
Trying to forget all the times when it hurt to be over there. Like Christmas or New Year's, when you would sit in the hot night air as the dirt and dust stick to your face and you listen to the empty silence of the night, with nothing but the hum of the loud generator filling the air, occasionally interrupted by the sound of an incoming rocket. When the loneliness is unbearable. When you can't call home because it hurts, and you know the tears will just swell.
Because you don't want your dad to worry, Because you can't let your guys see you cry. Because all you feel is loneliness.
So when you get back and they ask "So, how was it? How does it feel to be back?" It's easy, just so damn easy, to say, "Great "... it feels great to be back."
I don't think there is enough time to really tell them the truth. I'm not quite sure if they even really want to hear it.